Friday, October 31, 2008

Making a Salad out of Frank Sinatra

October 31, 2008

Sandwiches are a Hoboken specialty. The city abounds with wonderful Italian delicatessens. Those Italians know how to make bread and cold cuts, and when they pile them into different combinations--heaven is not far away.

Not long ago I discovered a sandwich known here as the Chicken Frank Sinatra. It's made with some balsamic vinegar splashed onto good Italian white bread. A little arugula doused in vinagrette is added, then a layer of sliced grilled chicken, topped with a few marinated artichokes, slices of tomato, and some mozzarella. Half of one of these babies is plenty for lunch, and you can have the rest some other time.

How about this: When you get the sandwich home (particularly if you're on the Atkins diet or some version and you're not wild about balsamic vinegar), you take one half, remove the vinegar-soaked bread (and put it in the fridge for later), take all the insides and combine with about one cup of salad from those salad bags everybody keeps around these days. Put all on a chopping board and chop into bite size pieces. Now place this mixture in an eating bowl, toss with your favorite dressing, and eat.

My favorite dressing, by the way, is homemade vinagrette, and I almost always have it on hand. I make in by taking a teaspoon or so of dijon mustard, adding a generous pinch of salt, a splash of vinegar, a drop of honey, and beating like crazy for a few seconds until all is dissolved nicely. Then I slowly add Italian olive oil (extra virgin) until it is a nice amalgamation. Your favorite dressing may come out of a bottle, and that will work for this salad too.

The Chicken Frank Sinatra Salad doesn't need much dressing. There is already a little oil and vinegar here and there in the sandwich, after all. But to my way of thinking, it does need a couple of tablespoons. Save leftover dressing; you won't have it for long. And be grateful you live in Hoboken where you're never far from a Chicken Frank Sinatra. If you live somewhere else, you're on your own in finding the ingredients.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween in Old Hoboken

October 29, 2008
The above vignette adorns the restaurant-bar Tenth and Willow, replacing the outdoor tables framed in vines and blossoms of the summer. Fall is here.

A few weeks ago I ran a few pictures of some of the home decorations going up on upper Garden Street, and Jim B., a former citizen of Hoboken, wrote:

"Liked your pictures on Garden Street. Looked very familiar. At this time of year [in the old days in Hoboken] you would see lots of empty boxes of grapes, since a lot of the people made their own wine. But now they decorate with mums and suburban looking things.

"Here is something about older Hoboken trick or treating. First, there is a mischief night before, where you would have socks filled with flour and leave markings on lots of the buildings. Sometimes eggs as well.

"But for Trick or Treat, you had to go floor to floor, then building to building, lots of stair climbing, and going from hot hallways to cold outdoors. You rarely went outside your own few blocks unless you went with classmates after school. My brother and I would usually go to the houses on 12th and Hudson and on Washington. On the Washington Street side, you didn't even have to leave the buildings since they were all connected through the basements. You could go to every building on Washington Street without going outside. There was a connection in the basements that made it simple. There was always a parade around Brandt school, sometimes outside the school, sometimes on the roof. The roof was where we had our Phys Ed classes.

"Most people were generous, and if they were not, the socks with flour returned oftentimes. The police usually had the streets cleared by about 9:30 or so."

I'll bet my readers can come up with a lot more memories of their Halloween activities. Let me hear them.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hoboken Blackout: 2008

October 26, 2008

I was thinking about a lot of things last night when the lights went out. My new apartment is totally electric, and I had some pasta and sauce on the stove. I had just gotten home from the British production of Chekhov's The Seagull on Broadway, and was processing the experience while I prepared for a quiet evening at home. I had answered my email and was mulling over what I would write about the play on the blog.

Then everything went dark. As in the coming of a hurricane in Lower Alabama, I was plunged into darkness. It was only 6:15, so there was a little ambient light in the apartment. There was even a flicker of electricity about five minutes later, and it looked as if this might be over soon. I searched for my flashlight and some matches, but found neither as the lights went out again, this time for hours. I realized there was no reason to try to make a meal so I grabbed a cooling sausage out of the sauce, scarfed it and put my feet up, trying to use meditation techniques to deal with the impending dark as the light eked out of the room. Out my window I could see the trees in the courtyard bending as they were whipped this way and that with the wind and lashed with rain.

It was too dark to read my watch. I didn't know how long it had been, but I rightly guessed about an hour when I decided to go to the street, where surely the bars of Willow Avenue would be filled with people discussing the blackout by candlelight and with beer.

At the beautiful restaurant-bar on the corner of 10th and Willow, a man was taking down the outside umbrellas. Inside, a few couples seemed to be deep in conversation. The umbrella man told me there was a power line down at Hudson and 11th Street and that only sections of the city were without power. I didn't see any huddled masses to join, and that bar scene seemed to be too self-contained for me to crack, so I walked south toward Rogo's. Three guys stood at the door, and I went in and stayed with them and a good pinot grigio until all the lights they had on batteries gave out, leaving the group with votive candles on the bar and a couple of pizzas delivered from Torno's. They called the power company and we were told we'd have service by 11:17. I asked if anyone had matches, and they didn't, so I went out into the rain and into CVS which was as bright and noisy as if there were no storm.

CVS doesn't carry matches. I came home and went to bed, still no idea what time it was, but guessed it was about eight. I figured that if I could fall asleep, lights coming on at 11:17 would wake me up and I could take care of the kitchen at that time.

All of a sudden the lights came on. I grabbed my watch and it said 9:00. I set all the clocks, ate the pasta, cleaned the kitchen, watched a little tv, and was back in bed in an hour.

This morning all the lights are working. Now I can think about that production of The Seagull before I go on the tour of Hoboken houses.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Date at Helmers'

October 20, 2008
Helmers' is one of the oldest restaurants in Hoboken, dating from the days before WWI when Hoboken was a German-dominated town and a favorite of beer lovers from all over New Jersey.

I first heard about it from Jim B., formerly of Hoboken but now a solid citizen of Mount Laurel. He emailed me soon after discovering this blog: "Helmers is on the corner of 11th and Washington. It looks just like it did in the early 1950's. Food and bar look the same too. We used to get the following:

* Steak sandwiches with tons of butter
* A mustard pickle mixture
* The mother would be by the bar with desserts which always had cake and strawberry. In the 1970's we would take my daughter there and she always had the strawberries. Now she goes back to Hoboken for the dancing and eating."

Well, that sounds pretty good. Hoboken b-&-r known as Downtown Chick told me that it was burned out completely and rebuilt to look exactly as it had. Knowing she was Italian I asked what she ate, and she said, "Steak sandwich, whaddya think? I'm gonna get sauerbraten?"

I met one of those who worked on the restoration and he promised to meet me there for a drink one day. I tried to set it up this weekend, but it didn't happen, and I kept thinking about that steak sandwich.

I slept late this A.M. after my show business adventure, but decided to treat myself after my gym experience on 14th Street. I went into Helmers' and ordered a steak sandwich to go. While waiting, I saw the huge list of beers and observed that the guys at the bar were drinking some light-colored brew out of dainty steins of some kind, with a slice of orange! Never saw that before.

I confess I'm not much on beer, so I wouldn't know. I Googled "slice of orange in beer" and discovered the practice has been encourage by a Coors product which is cloudy in color and said to be enhanced by the taste of orange. These guys were not drinking anything cloudy.

I waited and waited for my order. I checked out the menu and saw that the most German thing was wiener schnitzel, which I love, but there were also some bauernwurst dishes and a wurst platter. I liked the lady behind the counter. It seemed a family kind of place, redolent of beer and kraut. Not fancy like the Elysian, but homey and folksy. The service was very slow for the specialty of the house, and when I got it home, I confess I was underwhelmed. If it hadn't been for the home fries and the buttered toast beneath the slices of not-tender beef I might actually have given Helmers' of Hoboken a bad review.

But I loved the atmosphere and surmised that you don't go there for the food. And when my friend is up for it, I'll go again and drink something German with my wurst platter. Maybe I'll go ahead and put a slice of orange in it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Back in Show Business

October 18, 2008
It was a good rehearsal. The women in the play are talented and awesome, and the characters they are portraying are uniquely "Old Hoboken." Of a certain age, they are a "sewing circle," meeting on a regular basis where they drop any pretense of being ladies, they can talk openly of sex and the earthy side of the filming of On the Waterfront. They rehash old quarrels, mourn old friends ("She was the greatest slut who ever lived."), open old wounds, and settle old scores right before our eyes.

It is not a play that would have gone over in Fairhope. In Hoboken, it'll bring the house down.

In fact, this is a workshop reading, and I'm the outsider, the narrator who sits on the side and reads stage directions when it might clear up for the audience what action is going on in the play. The actresses were all in appropriate costumes last night, but I just came in my jeans and will wear all black tomorrow. I am an adjunct to the production, a retiree who writes a blog about Hoboken. This theatrical debut is a perfect beginning of the end of my first year in Hoboken.

The reading will be done at the Hoboken Museum, and has been sold out, so they've added a second performance at 8 P.M., which I'm sure will fill the little space too. The play will go on to a real production as part of a Hoboken trilogy by the late Louis La Russo II, author of Lamppost Reunion and Sweatshop.

The theatrical atmosphere is familiar and fun. As I walked home in the crisp fall air last night, I thought, "Well, you're back in show business."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Debate Review

October 16, 2008

No, I didn't watch the debate, but I reserve the right to review it.

There are so many experts parsing all the commentary made by the two candidates that you really don't need my opinion on that, especially since I didn't watch. What they miss is that the debates are not about content at all; they are about television.

This was established in the very first television debate, in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, and has never changed. That night the commentators, most of whom were listening on the radio, announced that Nixon had won the debate. He made his points clearly, addressed the issues in the right tone, and bested his young opponent by being a better debater.

But the viewers on the little black-and-white sets of the day saw a fresh, handsome face smiling naturally while an angry balding guy with a five-o'clock shadow and a moist upper lip glowered and carped. They liked the cut of the younger man's jib, they liked that easy laugh, and there was something obnoxious about the darker, hostile other guy.

But year after year, particularly when the two parties wrested the power to conduct the debates away from the more neutral League of Women voters, the debates have retained their one consistent characteristic: Cosmetics. (When the League managed the debates, at least there was a nice crowd of contenders, and a chance for some back-and-forth from candidates who had valid points to make outside the mainstream. Democrats and Republicans declared having such a broad field was unfair to them, since none of these others would win the Presidency, and after all, this democracy business is all about winning.)

Now we get three debates between two guys, and another one between two other guys. That this year the v-p debate produced a guy who was female is beside the point. She was admired for her use of the camera, her ease with telling off the moderator, and her televisual charm.

Even after the third debate of the principle players, the talking heads were focused on the least important thing about the debate, what they were saying. One of them said things that put him clearly in the Liberal column -- heaven forfend -- and the other outlined a Conservative agenda. This is the subject of all the talk today.

Not to worry. The viewers saw something else altogether. They saw a nervous, uncomfortable older guy who looked like a smile would break his face, snapping at the younger, smiling, odd-looking dark guy who tended to drone on in boring, professorial sentences as if we might be asked to take a quiz later.

Then the polls showed the professor inspired the most confidence. He "won" another debate. He may actually win the Presidency. But I'm not counting on it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Another Debate, Another Yawn

October 15, 2008

Even a hardened political junkie like me can get tired of an endless campaign like this one. I'm probably going to skip the debate tonight.

I'm told that the meat of the upcoming debate will be the confrontation by John McCain of Barack Obama on the earth-shattering relationship between candidate Obama and Chicago education reformer Bill Ayers. If he sees fit to bring this up, McCain will be prepared to point out that Obama has obfuscated and denied this relationship, clearly indicating Senator Obama's ability to gloss over the facts and present a false front to the American people. After all, early on in his career, Obama attended a fund-raising "Meet the Candidate" coffee in the home of this violent and unrepentent terrorist.

Now I must come clean myself: There are less than six degrees of separation between me and Bill Ayers. I lived on the Upper West Side in the late 1970s and my daughter, a teenager who often needed pocket money, had a part-time job at a day care center alongside Ayers and his wife, who were working under assumed names since they were at that time still under cover for their activities in the previous decade. They were a committed couple with a child in daycare, and she reports that they were the last people anyone would have thought had been involved in the overthrow of anything.

Did you notice that I said all this happened in the late 1970's? The assumptions of the sixties, that the center would not hold and that the upheaval of the younger generation ("Make Love, Not War") would threaten the American way of life forever had become out of date and the few urban guerillas left were coming clean and paying their debt to society in various ways. This was before Sarah Palin was born, and I'm here to tell you the times were a-changin' and then changin' back.

Most of us observed from outside, held down jobs, raised kids, and observed the political scene with some unease on both sides. Raised with a comfortable Eisenhower in the White House, we had wanted someone with youth and vision from our team in that post, and soon after he got there, we lost him.

So what scares us most about the upcoming election is the frenzy John McCain's side seems to be welcoming. McCain himself claims to be oblivious of this, and says it's just the same at Obama rallies (occasional boo's, which Obama quells like a high school history teacher with a scolding, "We don't need that."). The debate is unlikely to reveal anything new, and if it does, that 20-second clip will be shown a zillion times on the next 24-hour news cycle.

People feel passionately about their political choices, and nothing I can say is likely to change anybody's mind. I despair at trying. You have probably guessed my own leanings, and I do have a suggestion for you if, as John McCain says, you don't know "who Barack Obama is." The man has written two books to explain that to you. His autobiography, Dreams from My Father, is an easy read and a beautiful, inspiring work. If your mind is already made up, which it probably is, you might assume it's a tissue of lies from beginning to end. But it's not a polemic designed to incite you to any political action. It's one of those books about a unique life that might make you think once or twice about the diversity of lives in our nation.

I doubt that the debate will do that. I think I'll check out Turner Classic Movies and watch Fred Astaire tap dancing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Driving Without a Car

October 14, 2008

As I prepared to move to Hoboken, I had yard sales, house sales, garage sales, and I even sold my car. I had way too much stuff to fit in a city apartment, and in this part of the country, most people--me anyway--regard a car as a liability. I am not the world's best driver, and the way people drive in New Jersey I'd be an accident looking for a place to happen.

I have a friend who grew up in New Jersey and is well versed in the ways of driving here. His blog post on the subject has convinced me that I made the right decision to unload the little Saturn for the current phase of my trip through life. It had enough dings and dents in its short journey with me behind the wheel.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

File This Under "Lame"

October 12, 2008

John Preston was one of the first actors I ever hired. I was starting an Equity theater in Alabama, and the opening play would be A.R. Gurney's interesting comedy The Middle Ages. I went to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival seeking a Tom Hanks type for the lead, saw the student scenes and selected John for the iconoclastic Barney, a romantic, endearing character he played to perfection. Later I would use him as the mentally-challenged Ellard in The Foreigner, in which he was hilarious. John is an innocent, an engaging actor who is as much fun offstage as he is on.
He went on to work for a number of seasons at the

Elizabeth Hayes, John Preston
in The Middle Ages, Jubilee Fish Theater,
Fairhope, Alabama, 1989

Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where I followed his career and kept up with his life for years. When he played a dynamic and impressive Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet I took him aside and asked, "When are we going to see your Petruchio?"

"As soon as they do the play!"

Obviously I was on to something, because Alabama Shakes slated The Taming of the Shrew the next season and indeed John was spot-on as Petruchio in an offbeat interpretation of the play, setting it in the U.S. in the 1920's, with Petruchio a visitor from Texas to a hotbed of Chicago gangsters. He was delightful. I was impressed that the Texas accent worked with Shakespearean English, and John said that was one of the easiest parts of the role.

I lost touch with him when I moved north last year, but was pretty sure he was working in New York. His email address had changed and I hadn't been able to contact him when I saw his name -- now (probably for Union reasons) "John G. Preston"-- in the cast list of an off-off-Broadway production of a new play called Taboos.I ordered my ticket and planned to surprise him, not that I knew how to notify him of my plans anyway.

The ticket was for the matinee yesterday. It being a beautiful fall day, I was excited at the prospect of seeing my old friend again. I chose my outfit carefully, and even put on a little makeup. I Mapquested in half a dozen places on the Internet to find the little theatre just south of the Village, finally deciding just to get off at the Christpher St. stop on the PATH and walk until I found it. I wrote a little note to be delivered to him backstage, asking him out for coffee after the show so that we might catch up, exchange phone numbers, and maybe plan to see each other again soon. On such a nice day, all things seemed to be possible. Except what happened.

I arrived at the box office in plenty of time. I told the young man in the box office that I was there to pick up my ticket for the matinee.

"What matinee?"


"That show closed last week."

I protested that I had a ticket, reserved for months. He said it had closed anyway. I said I hadn't been notified. He said they had emailed some people. I told him I was a friend of a cast member and would like to get in touch with him.

"They're gone;" he said. "They're all gone."

Okay, I lost this time. I had in my mind the way the day was going to go, and it didn't. These things happen. I was in Manhattan. Did I want to go to Macy's? Did I want to pick up that lamp shade I needed? Actually, I didn't feel like doing anything but going back home.

In case you think I'm writing this for your sympathy, you're not 100 per cent right. I know actors, and suspect that John or somebody he knows will Google John G. Preston at some point soon and he'll know I'm looking for him. I'll let you know how that goes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hoboken Niceness

October 10, 2008

Just a year ago I hopped on a plane from Pensacola to Newark to seek living quarters in Hoboken. I spent two nights in a seedy motel in Jersey City (there are even now no hotels in Hoboken), and from there took cabs to the PATH trains. It was an adventure, but one I'm glad I won't have to repeat.

From craigslist I had gleaned the numbers of a few realtors, and had spoken to several on the phone before I left home. "You're calling from Alabama???" I had my modest budget, and had decided what I could tolerate in the way of space. I had lined up a place to see as soon as I got in, which turned out to be about 6 in the evening.

There I encountered the realtor, the first in a list of people with what I call "Hoboken niceness." I don't know what's unique to Hoboken about it, but almost all the people you meet in Hoboken, I have found, extend themselves to you in the first conversation and treat you as if they understand what you're about and have your best interests in mind. In the South, we put a lot of stock in Southern hospitality, and it's a real phenomenon, but this is just a little different. It's not necessarily genteel, or learned, it's just an openness and an instantaneous way of identification.

People from Hoboken will ask you a few questions, out of genuine interest, and build a whole conversation around your plight. They tend to be helpful and they usually have a sense of humor about all human intercourse. You gotta like them.

Okay, the realtor showed me a ground floor apartment, essentially a basement, which felt a little dark. It had access to the garden in the back, and the realtor and his wife owned a condo on a higher floor in the building. We chatted amiably, and I loved the idea of living in his building, but I wasn't in love with the place. My cell phone rang and it was a second realtor, who gave me the address of an apartment he could show me the next day.

When I told Realtor #1 that address, he said, "Hudson Street? That's one of the nicest streets in Hoboken. You have to look at it."

I walked to Buskers'--a nearby bar in a town full of bars, and had a drink. I wanted to find a place that I'd read about in the blog Philly2Hoboken, linked below, because, the blog writer, who didn't care for it, said they sometimes had blues music, which he also didn't like. The pretty bartender at Buskers' was whipping out exotic versions of Sangria and talking smart with the patrons, who clearly loved it. I asked someone if there was a nearby bar with a name like "Highland Fling," and drew blanks until I mentioned the blues.

"Scotland Yard!" I was told, and given directions. I held to my minimum of two more glasses of wine at Scotland Yard, but met a nice young man there whom I've never seen since. He gave me his card, and I emailed him a couple of times since I moved here, but he was just so busy that it never happened.

I took the Hudson Street place, as most of my readers know, but it turned out to be less than perfect for me, so I've since relocated and am finding my way about the Willow Avenue neighborhood.

Hoboken has its charms, and I found some of them right away, but this year has been one of discovery and many unexpected joys. Not the least of which is the pleasure of the company I get on this blog.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Feelin' Like Fall

October 7, 2008
It was feeling a lot like fall this morning when I set out for the gym. Luckily I had my camera in my bag to get some pictures of upper Garden Street, which is beginning to be decked out for Halloween with witches on the stoop, pumpkins in front of the house, and autumn leaves bedecking the doors of the beautiful old brownstones.The temperature was in the 50s, humidity in the 40s, and I was in high spirits, anticipating a beautiful autumnal day before it actually changes season. Hoboken is ready for it, and the weather is cooperating. Last weekend I actually saw fall foliage, on a trip to my daughter's house in upstate New York. I love the gentle falls of Southern Alabama, where most of the trees are evergreen and the change of color comes slowly and not until late November. But October is everybody's favorite month, I think, with the gloriously blue skies and the promise of crisp air and the smell of good food cooking. In Hoboken, the smell of food is never far away, and when you get it, it's usually Italian. Perfect for a day like today.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

An Introduction to the (Hoboken) Theatre

October 2, 2008

It was raining and was going to be a bad-hair evening, even though the hair had been doing just what I wanted all day. This was important only because I was about to meet with some 15 new women of course we would all be looking each other over. I had to trudge nine Hoboken blocks in the rain to the Gaia studio in the Neumann Leathers building for the first read-through of the play The Flora Dora Girls Weekly Sewing Circle by Hoboken's own Louis La Russo. I had to give up any thoughts of having good hair.

I had met the girls at the auditions and knew they were not the type to worry about what I was wearing. They dressed well, but some were in jeans and all had a casual, personal chic. I didn't have a problem finding comfortable clothes. The women were all sizes and shapes--all beautiful and dynamic, but the only one who could be called a beauty was the 15-year-old from Hoboken High who would be playing a 15-year-old from Hoboken High. They were all extraordinary actresses; I knew that from the reading too. They would be playing the roles of women like none I had ever known. Foul-mouthed and funny, the characters were based on real women the playwright had known intimately, including his own mother. Their stories poured out at the weekly sewing and coffee circle, but on the night of this meeting, the situation of the play, life came up to hit them in the face, and they struck back with humor, strength, and one of them with a pretty good left hook.

Being in a roomful of such women was awesome. All the actresses were chosen for their Hoboken edge, that crust of New Jersey accent and aggression with an overlay of courage and an undercurrent of sensitivity. They all had strong, some shrill, voices that matched the words they were saying. No subtlety needed. We laughed, we shrieked, we relaxed and enjoyed the play. I've been to a lot of first readings in my life, and I can say with assurance after this one, it's going to be quite a show.

Donna Truglio, whose uncle wrote the play (and who actually was the model for the teenager in the cast) brought a few family members and friends to watch the first act. They loved it just like all of Hoboken will. As they left, one said to us, "I lived in Hoboken in those days, and this was like a visit home!"

To me, of course, it was a visit to another planet, but the planet about which I've been doing first-hand research since last December. It was the world of Slezak, Mahoney, the Downtown Chick and Barbary Coast Kid who sometimes visit this blog and regale us with stories of clotheslines, dumbwaiters, Palisades Park and On the Waterfront. I can't wait to hear the audience reaction when we do the first reading for an audience, at the Hoboken Museum on October 19th.